“He just doesn’t seem to know how to feel love, because of what he has been through.”
“Mrs. Jenkins surely he knows how to feel love? You give him so much love, I can see that he adores you.”
“No, Miss. Lee you are mistaking his shyness and clinging to me as love. It is more an expression of his own insecurity. He depends on me. As for his dad, well that’s a long story. That’s the reason he is like he is. Thank you for paying for his schooling and accepting him into your class. I cannot afford it, and as soon as I can, I will pay you back.”
“No need to pay me back, every child deserves a start in life.”
Belinda Lee reminisced about the first time she ever met Billy’s Mom. Belinda was older now with children of her own. The memories came flooding back, while she was cleaning out the attic. She opened the book containing the pressed marigold flower. Dried out and flat, it had maintained that beautiful golden glow, not as vibrant as it was the day she received it, but her memory of that day was as fresh as the day it happened. It could have happened yesterday.
The book in which the flower was pressed also contained a drawing from Billy, a cat that he had drawn.
Other children in the class would call him ‘thick,’ ‘stoob’ and ‘slowcoach,’ because he would battle to understand concepts that they found easy to process. Children aged ten are rather unforgiving and Billy would feel their wrath day in and day out, except in Miss. Lee’s class, she did not allow the derogation of anyone. Empathy, however is not something children have an innate tendency towards, and often it is learned only as people progress through life. Life experience is something that gives us wisdom and understanding, as we mature emotionally.
It was the last day of school before the summer break and Belinda Lee had worked hard, she had been very patient and understanding of Billy. She understood his background struggles and challenges and vowed that his life would not be a wasted life. She challenged herself to give him a foundation to become a man who could contribute to society.
She sat there in the attic tears rolling down her cheeks, as she reminisced. The students in her class had decided to give her a ‘summer gift’ sort of like Christmas in July. It was their idea and she felt very special on that day.
“Who is next?”
“Mine Miss, open mine!” said Tracy proudly.
“I think you will like it, Miss Lee.”
“Oh wonderful, a beautiful fragrance from Prada, thank you very much Tracy, I do like it.”
“Now mine Miss. Open mine, the one with the purple wrapping paper.” said Brett excitedly.
“Ok Brett, now let’s see. Oh, wow thank you so much for the Swiss Chocolates and the sterling silver picture frame. It will be the perfect photo frame for Rex, my puppy.”
“Hey Miss, Billy’s also got some gifts for you.” Said Amber excitedly
“Miss here we are I made this for you and I got this for you.” said Billy as he opened his little hand to reveal yellow and white beads on some fishing line, and he revealed a marigold flower from behind his back.
“Miss, I remember you said you liked marigolds and this was the best one I could find for you. And I also know your favourite colours are yellow and white, so I made this necklace.”
There was a silence as most of the children stood there stunned.
After what seemed like minutes, Jason was first to comment.
“How lame, he made a gift, that’s dumb, and a flower, anyone can pick a flower.”
“Thank you everyone for your gifts.” Miss. Lee said, ignoring them, as more children started climbing aboard the abuse Billy band wagon.
There was a knock at the door of the class room, it was the headmaster Mr. Bremner. The class was quiet, they knew Mr. Bremner was a strict, no nonsense, man.
“Miss. Lee can you please accompany me to my office? I have a lady on the phone who is irate about one of your students, she wishes to speak to you.”
“Summer you are in charge of the class while I am out. Everyone, open your reading books to page forty, and read chapter five. When I come back, I will be asking questions about what happened in chapter five. Everyone is to listen to Summer while I am out for a few minutes.
Miss. Lee entered Mr. Bremner’s office and took the receiver to get an earful from Mrs. Perkins.
“Hello. I am Miss. Lee, one of the 4th Grade teachers at St Vincent’s Primary.”
“Well, Hello there. Now listen, and listen carefully Miss, what was your name again?”
“Ah, Yes Miss. Lee. You apparently have a student in your class, I was told his name is Billy. I confronted some other children standing nearby, and they told me his name. My house is right near the bus stop, now he is a scruffy boy with unkempt blonde hair. I recognized the uniform and I’ll know that little upstart when next I see him. This morning I saw him in my garden, he picked my best and most prized marigold. I love my flowers and my garden is the winner. The winner for the third year in a row, best garden in Garden and Home magazine, and featured on their TV show too. I do not need scruffy little thieves trampling in my flower beds and stealing my flowers thank you. I saw him do it. Now what are you going to do about the thief?”
“Mrs. Perkins, I am sorry to hear about this and I will have a talk to Billy. Stealing flowers from gardens most definitely is not acceptable.”
“It’s not, Miss what’s your name again?”
“You know Lee, this is how it all starts, they start with flowers, then it’s some garden tools and then it’s cars and armed robbery. Listen you need to take this boy in hand. I have a good mind to go to the police. Young scallywag, what kind of students are you educating? What’s more when I spotted him, he said it was for his second favourite lady in the world. He mentioned you. He is a menace I tell you, a menace!”
“Thank you, Mrs. Perkins. You can be assured that I will be punishing Billy, there is no need to get the police involved.”
“Well, I’m warning you and him, if this happens again the police will come knocking. Good day to you!”
The peace of silence filled my ear.
“Mr. Bremner, I will chat to Billy. Sorry that you have to deal with these matters, I know you are busy.”
“Oh, not to worry, it takes all kinds of people to make up a community. Chat to Billy and let him know that he shouldn’t steal flowers from other people’s gardens.”
“I will Mr. Bremner, I better get back to my class.”
Miss. Lee walked back to her classroom, and as she approached the classroom, she heard some of the children from down the hall.
“I bet it’s about Billy, he’s such a trouble maker, and who makes gifts? What junk, why don’t you brush your hair? Look he can’t even button his shirt properly, buttons in the wrong holes.”
She opened the classroom door to whispers and sounds of ‘ssshhh.’
“Summer I take it that everyone did their reading?”
“Yes Miss, except Billy, he didn’t listen and he just sat there drawing.”
“Billy, is that true?”
“Yes Miss. I wanted to draw something for you. I know you like cats, so I drew this one.”
He held up an excellent sketch of a cat, it really was amazing, for that age, to draw like that was impressive, his sketch had depth and expression in the creature’s eyes.
“Thank you, Billy, but you do need to read when I ask you to please.”
“Ok Miss, don’t you like my drawing?” he said looking down at his scuffed shoes.
“Yes, I do Billy, it is wonderful, but when I ask us all to read, we should all read, okay?”
“Okay, sorry Miss.”
“Miss, Miss can you tell us whose gift you liked the most?” asked Brett, sure that she would choose his gift.
“All the gifts are very special and mean a lot to me.”
“Come on Miss, whose gift is best?” asked Summer to a chorus of ‘yes Miss, tell us.’
“Okay, settle down everybody, if I had to choose, I would say the gift that is closest to my heart is the one that took the most effort. All of your gifts are magnificent and I am very grateful, but the gift that really cost someone more than money was the gift from Billy. Billy spent time and did some hard work. He remembered my favourite colours and my favourite flower.”
The class was stunned into silence.
“There is more to a gift than how much money you paid for it, there is understanding and thinking about the person to whom you are giving the gift. Always remember that children. Your parents are waiting, everyone have a wonderful summer holiday and I will see you all after the break.”
There was some muttering and murmuring, but that was replaced by the excitement of the summer break that awaited them.
She thought back over the function that she attended last night, the inauguration of the new Mayor of the city.
The words of the newly elected Mayor echoing in her mind.
“If it wasn’t for the two ladies in my life, my mother and a lady that took the time to assist me when I was younger, I would not be standing here in front of you. My mother taught me well, but one other special lady impacted my life and set me on the right path. She helped my mother pay for my education throughout my school life, always taking an interest in me and helping me, her name is Mrs. Blakey. I knew her as Miss Lee at the time. My 4th Grade teacher. Mrs. Blakey please come join me here.”
She walked up onto the platform where Mayor Billy Jenkins stood.
“Mrs. Blakey thank you for setting me on the right path, for having patience and caring for me when I was a young kid going through tough times. Here, these are for you. I bought them this time, so Mrs. Perkins can relax. Her garden is safe. That’s an inside joke everyone.”
Mrs. Blakey laughed nervously.
She received a large bunch of marigolds. She never understood the impacts that love and care could have on somebody’s life. We really don’t think about it as we journey through life. Something small that we may do for somebody can have a large impact.
She put the book and pressed marigold away. She took a last look at the drawing of the cat, and closed the book. She could hear her husband calling her to come and join them for lunch. She would clean out the attic tomorrow.
The marigold summer would forever be special to her, and the da she received that marigold remains one of her favourite memories. The greatest reward and honour she ever received was to see Billy Jenkins as Mayor.